Spider Veins and Varicose Veins

Spider veins and varicose veins are practically a rite of passage. As we age, many of us find the jagged purple lines or swollen bluish cords spreading across our thighs and calves. These warped blood vessels occur in up to 60% of adults.

Spider veins appear as thin, red lines or as weblike networks of blood vessels on the surface of the skin. Spider veins, a mild form of varicose veins, typically appear on the legs and feet.

Spider veins are small, damaged veins that can appear on the surface of the legs or face. They are usually not painful or harmful, but some people may wish to treat them for cosmetic reasons.

Spider veins can be blue, purple, or red and may appear in the form of thin lines, webs, or branches. People sometimes also refer to them as thread veins.

A range of treatments can remove spider veins or reduce their appearance.

In this article, we discuss the causes of spider veins and how they differ from varicose veins. We also cover the treatment and prevention of spider veins.

Causes

In the legs, spider veins can occur when the valves inside the veins stop working properly.

Veins carry blood back to the heart. To prevent blood from flowing backward, they contain a one-way valve that closes once the blood passes through it.

If this valve weakens or becomes damaged, the blood may struggle to flow in the correct direction, and it can begin to pool inside the vein. Over time, this can cause a bulge in the vein that branches out, resulting in spider veins.

Spider veins on the face are often the result of tiny blood vessels bursting. Increased pressure or sun damage can cause this to occur.

Spider veins and varicose veins are different forms of a medical condition called venous insufficiency. In the legs, both conditions result from having weakened or damaged valves in the veins. However, the two issues have different symptoms.

Spider veins are usually small, thin lines that may be flat or only slightly raised. They are often blue, red, or purple. Although they can cause some discomfort, they are painless most of the time.

Varicose veins are larger and deeper than spider veins. They may also appear lumpy or twisted and are usually flesh-colored or red.

Depending on their severity, varicose veins can cause a variety of symptoms. These may include:

  • pain
  • itching
  • bleeding
  • swelling of the legs or ankles
  • an achy or heavy feeling in the legs

Varicose veins may also increase a person’s risk of blood clots and circulation problems.

TREATMENT

Types of compression stocking include:

Support pantyhose

Gradient compression stockings and socks

Prescription compression stockings

Sclerotherapy and closure system

Laser treatment

A healthcare professional can use a laser to treat spider veins that are smaller than 3 millimeters and close to the surface of the skin. The laser is a strong, focused beam of light that causes the spider vein to clot and dry up.

Laser treatments are less invasive than sclerotherapy or closure system because there is no injection.

Endovenous laser therapy (EVLT)

EVLT is a newer procedure for the treatment of spider veins and small varicose veins.

A healthcare professional makes a small incision in the affected vein and then inserts a laser fiber. The laser applies heat directly to the vein and causes it to collapse. The vein may take several months or up to a year to disappear.

EVLT involves the use of local anesthesia.

Surgery

Although some surgical treatments can be effective for larger varicose veins, doctors usually do not perform them on spider veins. The reason for this is that spider veins are small, so they often respond well to the less invasive treatments above.